There’s this incredibly precocious 10-year-old girl (I’ll call her Sarah in this post, although that’s not her real name) who visits the library several times a week with her equally precocious younger brother. They are both very charming and smart and funny. I love when they are in the library. However, the other day I had an interaction with Sarah that slightly broke my heart. I’ll try to transcribe our conversation as accurately as possible:
Sarah leaned her elbows on the reference desk and sighed. “I’m bored. I just want to talk.”
“Okay. Everything alright?” I asked.
“Yeah. It’s Chinese New Year.” She looked at me, pointedly.
“Oh, that's right!” I said, unsure of where this was headed.
“I don’t even get to do anything for Chinese New Year. I’m half Chinese. My mom’s the Chinese one.”
I nodded, waiting for her to go on.
“She’s gone. Not, like, dead. Not even divorced. Just gone. She left.”
“I’m sorry, sweetie.”
Sarah shrugged. She pulled up a chair next to the reference desk.
“I’m going to sit here, okay?”
We chatted for a while about her mom and other things. At one point, Sarah told me that she was nervous about a monologue she had to give for a drama class at school. I asked her if she wanted to practice it, so she retrieved the piece of paper with the monologue written on it from her backpack and recited it, giggling through the whole thing. Afterward, she got serious again:
“I’m nervous about something else."
"I don’t want to get my period.”
I have no kids of my own yet, so I’ve never had to talk with one about anything birds & bees-related. I didn't want to say the wrong thing and potentially scar Sarah for life. Plus, this isn’t exactly the best conversation to have at the reference desk with a kid you hardly know. But Sarah obviously just wanted to get some female advice. I chose my words carefully.
“Well, you know, it’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s just a part of growing up,” I offered, pathetically.
“Yeah, I know.” Sarah dramatically threw her hands up. “I’m just not ready to become a woman!” I couldn’t help but laugh with her at that. This kid’s going to be in pictures, I tells ya.
We talked some more. Eventually, Sarah's brother came over and the conversation topic changed. Now, I don't pretend to have a huge influence in the lives of these kids. I know that when they go home, many of them have serious issues to deal with - absent parents, for example - and they aren't thinking about the library. But they will come back every day because they know on some level that it's a safe place. It seems that there aren't too many of those left in this city.
I hope my conversation with Sarah helped her in some way, even if it was just to give her someone to talk with who wasn't her brother or father. Interestingly, I feel like talking to her helped me in ways I can't really identify. Kids are pretty wise if you listen carefully enough. Sometimes I'm not so sure I'm ready to be a woman myself.